Leading up to The House with a Clock in its Walls (trailer), I decided to take an honest look at the movies of Eli Roth. If you want to skip the intro, go straight to the fifth paragraph, where I delve into Cabin Fever, Eli Roth’s first feature-length horror flick.
I guess 2018 is the perfect year to check out the work of Roth, since, besides the upcoming horror movie I mentioned, he also directed Death Wish, an action movie that’s almost painful to watch! Luckily, though, here I will focus on the filmmaker’s horror movies… after all, the blog is called HorroWorld&Reviews, not Crappyactionflicks&Reviews.
I know Roth has a quite strong and loyal fan base, my girlfriend for example is a big supporter of his work. Sure, he’s also rather criticised by hard-core horror fans for turning potentially disturbing movies into mainstream, toned down factory products (more on that next month, when I’ll be taking a look at Hostel).
Personally, I really like the guy: he’s self-confident but not cocky, he makes modern movies without forgetting his passion for exploitation and 70s cinema, he’s a true horror fan. However, that’s also why his movies are quite frustrating to me, since I wish I loved them… but I often don’t. Nevertheless, I’m quite fond of his earlier works, starting with…
CABIN FEVER (2003)
We all know the story: five friends go to a cabin in the woods to celebrate their graduation from college and, as soon as some very ill individual knocks on their door, their vacation goes downhill quite fast. Portrayed by unknown actors, the five guys are basically your average stock characters: we have the cool looking dude, the responsible one, the hot chick who’s very free with her sexuality, the pretty but humble girl and the annoying stoner.
However, Eli Roth takes an unoriginal setting, a few stock characters and turns everything into something quite refreshing and pleasantly surprising.
In fact, the plotline recalls that of 80s slasher flicks. Here, however, the killer isn’t a masked, indestructible man/entity, but a deadly, flesh-eating virus that’s both highly contagious and virtually unbeatable. The characters themselves – other than the junky guy and the bitchy girl – have more to offer than what appears on the surface: especially Paul, the main protagonist, who’s very likeable and develops throughout the movie. Albeit the acting in general isn’t great, to say the least.
This doesn’t help them to be relatable, a flaw that’s made even worse by the shaky writing by Eli Roth himself (which, unfortunately, will see in other movies in his filmography). Besides characters and dialogue, Eli wrote great situations in the movie, which he executed in a quirky, funny way that gave the whole Cabin Fever experience a surreal undertone. So I shouldn’t be too harsh on him.
As a big fan of exploitation, 70s horror cinema and Japanese filmmaking, Eli Roth played a lot with people’s expectations by inserting in the movie a few sequences of plain weirdness – a la Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi The Killer). For example, the subplot revolving around Denis (the awkward kid in the gas station) and the silly cop character are extremely amusing: the first one pays homage to Japanese extreme cinema, whereas the second one pokes fun at the stupid police depicted in many 70s exploitation flicks.
Besides, Cabin Fever manages to create a few scenes of legit tension and intensity, such as the somewhat iconic ‘legs shaving’ bit and the rotting face one. Without using idiotic jump-scares, Eli chilled the audience in a very effective way.
Although I can respect and appreciate the balance between scary bits and humour in the film, I also got the impression that the Bostonian filmmaker didn’t really know what route to go for with Cabin Fever. This is not really a huge flaw, but it honestly affected my viewing experience because I couldn’t read the characters’ actions from time to time.
What I could fully appreciate, though, is the ending: quirky and unsettling at once, the ending of Cabin Fever is really good.
It comes with no surprise that Quentin Tarantino, of whom Eli Roth is good friend, actually approached Roth because of this movie, since he considered it one of the best horror films in 2003.
Overall, despite being rather incoherent and flawed, I very much like Cabin Fever and isn’t this a good way to start a series about Eli Roth?
Cabin Fever 8/10
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My review is also available on IMDb – Cabin Fever